Rabbi Sharon Brous, leader of Ikar, a spiritual and social activism community in Los Angeles, and her colleague and friend of many years, Rabbi Danny Gordis, locked horns this week in a passionate and personal exchange of articles in the Times of Israel about what it means to support Israel in a time of crisis.
Gordis, who writes frequently about Israel and recently published a book about Israel, is senior vice president and Koret distinguished fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, and a founding dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism, now American Jewish University, in Los Angeles.
In an article in The Times of Israel, Gordis attacked Brous for a letter she wrote to her congregants that affirmed Israel's obligation to defend its citizens and called for empathy for both Israelis and Palestinian civilians.
Why can we not simply say that at this moment, Israel’s enemies are evil? That they’re wrong? Why cannot someone as insightful and soulful as Rabbi Brous just say, without obfuscation, that whatever fault one finds with Israel, it is the Jewish State that for seventy years has sued for peace and the Arabs/Palestinians who have always refused…
… my friend left me heartbroken. If people as wise and as deeply Jewishly knowledgeable as Rabbi Brous (whom I told that this response was forthcoming) cannot come out and say that at least at this moment, we care about Israel more than we care about its enemies because we care about the future of the Jews more than almost anything else in the world, then her Jewish world and mine simply no longer inhabit overlapping universes.
In an article posted at the Times of Israel the next day, Brous said Gordis brought the conversation on Israel to a new low:
What is shameful is that Gordis knows what many of his readers do not. For years my teacher and friend, he knows precisely what is the character of my Judaism, he knows just how deeply Jewish traditions and texts run in my blood. But it is far easier to cast aspersions on a straw man than engage in discourse with a real live colleague who shares his concern for Israel, the Jewish people and its future but nevertheless sees things differently than he does. So he follows the disturbing pattern he established years ago – pinpoint one voice, publicly eviscerate, hit send and reap the rewards of the resulting publicity. This may be a fine strategy to keep Gordis’s agenda on the radar of the American Jewish community, but it does not actually serve the interests of the Jewish people, his ostensible concern.
David Myers, chair of the history department at UCLA, came to Brous' defense in another post, characterizing Gordis' attack as stemming from a romanticized version of Zionism:
Rabbi Daniel Gordis’s critique of Rabbi Sharon Brous induces in the reader a certain fatigued response. On more than a few occasions, he has seen fit to anoint himself as the guardian of a fixed moral boundary line, insisting that one either stands with him – or against the Jews. In his latest pronouncement, he issues his own “J’accuse” against one of the most promising leaders to be found in American Judaism (who, in the name of full disclosure, happens to be a friend), Rabbi Sharon Brous. The crime? Nothing less than betrayal of the Jewish people. That the accused has inculcated a love of Judaism, Jews, the Jewish people, and the State of Israel in thousands of young people is of little moment to Rabbi Gordis.
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